Scottish design has a new home: How the V&A will transform Dundee

There’s only one Victoria & Albert Museum—but not for long. A second V&A is almost ready to open in Dundee, with a remit to showcase Scotland’s vibrant and diverse design heritage and host exhibitions from around the world in a remarkable waterside building that extends out over the River Tay.

Designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, the building has been seven years in the making. Kuma won an open competition with his design, an imposing, elegantly curved three-story concrete structure decorated with stone panels that look like a Scottish cliff face, in 2010.

With the opening scheduled for the latter half of 2018, the £80m V&A is almost ready for take-off. No-one has been as intimately involved as Director Philip Long, who left his job as senior curator at the National Galleries of Scotland to take up his role in 2011.

He’s had to overcome a number of problems, from rising costs to design changes that mean less of the building hangs over the water than originally planned but says he’s “thrilled” now the ambitious project is close to fruition.

“It responds beautifully to the natural environment,” says Long. “Part of the architectural brief was to reconnect the city with its waterfront. By extending part of the museum out into the river, and by using pools of water around the building, it blurs the lines between the land and the water—and will, of course, serve as a powerful force for bringing people into that part of Dundee.”

Plenty of effort has been expended on the interiors, too. Long’s curatorial team has spent the last few years deciding how best to tell the story of Scottish design; the galleries include artefacts from as far back as the 15th century alongside many more contemporary items. “[The story of Scottish design] is fascinating but little known, even within Scotland, despite the country being hugely important internationally,” says Long.

The highlight of the collection will be The Oak Room, a tea room designed by Glasgow artist, architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) that was last used as part of the Ingram Street Tea Rooms in the 1950s. “It’s been in storage in hundreds of bits since the 1970s,” says Long. “Bringing that back together has been an incredible process, and it will be a breath-taking exhibit.”

Dundee, once a great industrial city with shipyards along the River Tay, has suffered in recent decades. The opening of the V&A will invite inevitable comparisons to Bilbao, the Basque city in northern Spain which has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years partly thanks to the Guggenheim Museum that opened there in 1997. Could the V&A have a similar impact in Scotland?

“We are already seeing the huge international interest in V&A Dundee and the investment in new, high-quality hotels coming into Dundee,” says Long. The new Hotel Indigo Dundee will open in 2018 a short walk from the V&A. “As the flagship development of Dundee’s revitalised waterfront, we’re proud to be changing perceptions of this great city and putting it on the map internationally.”

The next few years should be exciting for the city. More than 350,000 visitors a year are expected at the V&A, but there’s plenty more to enjoy in this resurgent Scottish city, says Long. “I think it’s important for visitors to take time in Dundee, to stay for a few days to appreciate both V&A Dundee with its incredible exhibitions and galleries, but also the wider cultural offering in the city and across Tayside,” he says.

“DCA, The Rep and The McManus are all wonderful places to spend time, as is Hospitalfield, a short drive away near Arbroath, or St Andrews, the home of golf. The natural environment around Dundee is simply stunning, and it’s a great base for exploring Scotland more widely.”

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